Self-care was something I didn’t do well in the final months of my husband’s life. I dragged my tattered super hero cape in the mud far too long—because I didn’t want to bother people, because self-care sounded self-ish.
But good self-care isn’t selfish. It isn’t about seeing to our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health first.
It’s simply refueling ourselves—after we’ve tended to our responsibilities—in order to have a full tank from which to serve.
And refueling is important as we provide nurturing and care for family members, and patients, and students, and passengers, and parishioners, and customers, and rescue mission clients.
With that in mind, here are 46 highly effective self-care tips, whether your life has been touched by cancer, you’re building a business, or there’s a new baby in the house (or teenagers, for that matter):
1. Settle in somewhere outdoors.
it doesn’t matter so much where, as long as it’s outdoors. In a hammock. At the end of a dock. On a park bench or mountain top. Bring a book, and maybe a camera, and definitely snacks. Read. Munch. Snap photos.
Or simply close your eyes with a baseball cap over your face.
2. Make a *deposit-here* box.
Find a decorative box and label it: “Things I will eventually get to, but not this day/ week/ season.”
Write down all that is pressing heavily upon you … like, sorting through your deceased husband’s belongings. Put the slips of paper in your box instead of carrying the weight around with you.
3. Sign up for a creative class.
Water colors. Pottery. Calligraphy. Clock-making. There’s science that indicates creativity provides health benefits.
4. Listen to a child read.
Volunteer through the SMART (Start Making A Reader Today) Reading Program by listening to an elementary-school-aged child read. Doing something useful or meaningful is definitely self-caring.
5. Soak in a bubble bath.
Fill the tub. Light candles. Play your favorite music. Don’t fall asleep.
6. Brew a cup of tea.
Find a favorite spot on a window seat, a front porch rocking chair, or an overstuffed chair by a crackling fire. Savor every sip of tea—preferably a Chai tea latte—while accomplishing absolutely nothing.
This reminder from Thich Nhat Hanh:
Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future. Live the actual moment. Only this moment is life.
7. Take a walk.
My favorite combination for refueling involves fresh air, beauty in nature, and physical movement. Which makes walking the perfect self-care-ish activity. Depending on energy and health levels, the walk can be on a mountain trail, or to the end of the driveway to check the mail.
8. Start a gratitude journal.
No, you’re not grateful for a cancer diagnosis; you’re not grateful that your child has special needs or your loved one died. But can I gently ask a few questions: Do you have a roof over your head? Food in your pantry? Taste buds to savor the food? The ability to walk or jog? Favorite tunes and ears to enjoy the music? What about freedom? And people who love you? Challenge yourself to see if you can number 100 things you’re grateful for.
9. Rescue a dog.
Consider providing a home and your undying love to a rescue dog. And see if he doesn’t rescue you in the process.
For people who enjoy cooking, creating something delicious and nutritious can be very self-caring. Try a new recipe or cook one of your favorite dishes. Light candles for no particular reason other than to make it a memorable family meal.
11. Launch a book club.
Contact one or three book-loving friends and nourish your heart and soul over a regularly scheduled coffee-and-book discussion time.
12. Keep a journal for one week.
Record the progress you’re making in dealing with your challenges. Write down your fears and joys, frustrations and successes.
There’s science that indicates capturing our thoughts in words is beneficial. (I’m pretty sure I saved my husband thousands of dollars in psychotherapy costs simply by keeping a journal through the years.)
13. Play in a park.
Take a child to the park. (Borrow a child, if necessary.) Swing on the swings and slide down the slides with your borrowed child.
14. Reach out to someone in need.
Reaching out to others can lift our spirits, which is definitely part of self-care. Take an Alzheimer’s patient for a walk to give his/her caregiver a break. Organize donations, or help cook and serve a meal at the local rescue mission.
It might seem counter-intuitive, but taking the focus off ourselves during our hard and holy moments is practicing good self-care. Amazing how that works.
15. Treat yourself to chocolate.
Try one of the dark chocolates coupled with raspberry, mint, or salted caramel. Make an occasion of it—like, after the dinner dishes are done and the fireplace is lit.
And while we’re on the subject of chocolate, consider this practical tip:
Put ‘Eat chocolate’ at the top of your to-do list for today. That way, you’ll get at least one thing done.
16. Play soaring music.
Turn up the volume and grab headphones. See how many instruments you can identify. Tympani. Cello. Peruvian woodwinds.
Music is powerful. Which is why specific music is played in elevators and medical offices, in grocery stores and at sporting events. It’s designed to calm us, or put us in happy moods for buying stuff or cheering our teams on. Use the power of music to take care of yourself.
17. Join a Bible study group.
A Bible study usually runs six to eight weeks. Make a one-time commitment and, if you enjoy it, sign up for the next study. This not only nourishes our spirits, but can also provide new friendships, which nourishes our souls.
18. Learn to knit.
It’s ridiculously therapeutic to create something lovely and useful out of soft, fuzzy skeins of yarn. I usually start knitting Christmas gifts in January for sisters-in-law, daughters, nieces, cousins, friends, which means I’m in therapy all year long.
Do a few simple stretches first thing in the morning to your favorite stretching music.
20. Sit, read, sip, people watch.
Sit long with a good book in a local coffee shop. Sip your coffee or tea slowly. Raise your eyes from time to time to practice your people-watching skills.
21. Host a weekly Classic Movie Night.
Invite a friend over. Make popcorn. Begin with Charade, starring Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant. Next, Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief. Move on to Rear Window with Grace Kelly and Jimmy Stewart. And then branch out to Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.
22. Unplug from all electronic devices.
Try unplugging for a couple hours. If you don’t go through any serious withdrawals, extend it for a full afternoon. Fill in the downtime with reading, daydreaming, walking, napping, sketching, writing—the list is endless.
23. Plant a flower, veggie, or herb bowl.
Start with a large container that has good drainage. Plant something tall and stalky in the middle. Work out from there with smaller plantings that are indigenous to your area. Water. Enjoy.
24. Take a nap.
Set a timer and take a quick nap in the middle of the day. According to MentalFloss.com, napping can boost our immune systems, and improve our memory and our physical stamina. Good self-care right there.
For most of us, doing a thorough declutter could take days. And so we put it off because we don’t have days. But what if we concentrated on one area, like our closet? What hasn’t been worn for a year? Give it away!
26. Play fetch with a furry, four-pawed friend.
In a Science Daily report, one veterinarian said, “There are physical and mental health advantages for the dog owner and the dog when they exercise together.” I’ve learned some profound life lessons simply by throwing a tennis ball for a dog.
27. Compose a poem.
Try your hand at writing a poem. Even if it doesn’t rhyme. Or if it rhymes too much. Share your poem with someone. In the process, you might discover a hidden talent.
28. Browse through an antique/junk store.
Let your creative juices flow as you wander through all the nooks and crannies of a second-hand shop. Look for items that could be repurposed into something really cool — like, a set of retro suitcases stacked beside a bed as a nightstand.
29. Add one healthy item to your diet this week.
And then next week, add another healthy item. And again the following week. See if these additions don’t crowd out some of the not-so-healthy stuff.
30. Rediscover your buried talents.
What are your gifts that have taken a back seat? Did you know there are meet-up groups for photographers, inventors, and African drummers?! Rediscover and cultivate your hidden talents.
31. Engage in a snowball fight.
Even if you throw like a girl, go ahead, smash up a snowball and let it fly. And see if your momentary concerns don’t fly away with all the snowballs.
32. Daydream in front of a crackling fire.
There is something mesmerizingly therapeutic about staring into the flicker of flames. (And if you add knitting and sipping Chai latte to the daydreaming, well … right there, triple self-care.)
33. Step outside your comfort zone.
Sign up for stand-up paddle board lessons, hula-hooping, or helicopter skiing. The courage generated from trying something new and gaining confidence is definitely self-caring.
This to ponder:
A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.
34. Cultivate new and old friendships.
Meet new friends over coffee or tea on back porches, at cafés, along river trails. Meanwhile, don’t lose touch with old friends. Connect often for the sake of giving and receiving encouragement and wisdom. People are our most valuable asset.
35. Keep a food journal for one week.
Determine a total number of fruit-and-veggie servings for the week. Record your successes each day.
36. Get a pedicure or manicure.
If spa treatment is out of your budget, figure out a trade with a friend. Share lotions and nail colors.
37. Memorize a favorite poem or scripture.
Repeat the poem or verse to yourself often. Here’s the start of Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything that I need.”
38. Schedule a nature photo shoot.
For the sake of nurturing your pay-attention skills, look at nature through the lens of a camera. See if you don’t come away with a greater awe of God’s creation.
39. Try out a community group.
Participate in a therapy group for caregivers or widows. Or a community of adoptive parents. Or even a support group for people with red hair and freckles who were teased incessantly by brothers. Promise yourself to attend at least six weeks. If it’s a good fit, lengthen your commitment.
Put on some groovy music and twirl, dip, leap, and bop to your heart’s content.
41. Watch an inspiring movie.
My all-time favorite inspiring sports movie is Miracle, about the U.S. ice hockey team that beat the Soviets at the 1980 Olympics. Also, Invictus with Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela, the first elected black president of South Africa, is quite inspiring.
The next time you’re in a private setting with a group of friends, challenge each other to laugh. At first it will sound fake but see how quickly it turns into real laughter. And see how good it feels.
43. Treat yourself to outdoor music and food.
My hometown hosts Munch ‘n Music on Thursday evenings in the summertime. A free concert in the park along the river. Bring your own blanket and dinner. Or buy dinner from one of the food trucks. If your town doesn’t offer free outdoor concerts in a park, consider relocating.
44. Plan a Pajama Day.
If you’re facing something particularly challenging or heart-wrenching, schedule a day to stay in your pajamas. Light candles. Watch HGTV. Read magazines. Sip tea. Write in a journal. Call someone you haven’t heard from in a while—your college roommate, your niece, a friend who moved away. Sip more tea.
45. Visit a shut-in.
Take flowers or a small gift to someone who can no longer get out and about. Come prepared with questions to ask about his/her growing up years. Sit and listen long.
46. While out in nature, count all the ways God loves you.
Take journal and pen with you outdoors … and it’s OK if you don’t make it further than the front porch. Begin counting. Here’s a start: 1) All this beauty for my enjoyment; 2) Legs to walk this path; 3) Sound of water rushing over large boulders; 4) Mama duck conducting swimming lessons; 5) This breath in, this breath out.
What if we could refuel ourselves—physically, mentally/emotionally, and spiritually—in order to better serve others, in order to be more present in our serving, in order to be glad and not resentful in the service?
I’m living proof that each of these self-care tips can be effective in dealing with the overwhelmingness of life. I’ve done them all.
Well, except the helicopter skiing.
And I may not have ever joined a red-hair-and-freckles support group, but I certainly could have benefitted from one. (You don’t know my brothers.)